/ 8 July 2005

London sucked into terror maelstrom

At least 33 people have been killed in a series of explosions that ripped through London’s transport system on Thurday morning, and more fatalities are expected to be announced as the situation develops.

Russell Smith of the London ambulance service confirmed the deaths in a coordinated series of attacks on tube trains and a bus that left many more people wounded and plunged the capital into chaos during rush hour. The final death toll will be higher, Smith said.

Hundreds of wounded people are being treated in London hospitals.

Officials shut down the whole of the London Underground system and the Docklands Light Railway, and cancelled all central London bus services as they tried to comprehend the scale of the disaster.

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said it was “reasonably clear” that the blasts were the work of terrorists, and added that it was “particularly barbaric” that attacks had been timed to coincide with the start of the G8 summit. He said he would leave Gleneagles, in Scotland, to return to London.

With the leaders of the G8 nations lined up behind him, Blair said: “We condemn utterly these barbaric attacks. All of our countries have suffered from terrorism … we are united in our resolve to confront and defeat this terrorism that is not an attack on one nation but on all nations and on civilised society everywhere.”

He insisted the G8 leaders would continue their discussions and would not allow the terrorists to halt a summit aimed at helping the world’s poorest people.

The Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, confirmed that there had been four blasts: one on a tube train between Aldgate and Liverpool Street, one on a train between Russell Square and King’s Cross, one on a train at Edgware Road station, and the last on a bus at Tavistock Square. Earlier reports had spoken of seven attacks amid confusion as incidents were reported by those in stations at both ends of the affected track.

The only attack that occurred in full view of the general public was that on the double-decker bus. A bomb ripped the number 30 bus apart at Tavistock Square, near Russell Square, peeling away its sides, blowing off the roof and leaving the few remaining seats exposed. Sir Ian said the bomb had exploded in the back part of the top deck of the bus.

Coordinated attacks

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, said: “We are concerned that this is a coordinated attack.”

The police and government did not say who had carried out the attacks. However, BBC Monitoring said it had found a website carrying a brief statement in which an al-Qaida-related organisation claimed responsibility for today’s blasts.

Heavy casualties

The number of attacks, coupled with their scale and rush-hour timing, meant there were heavy casualties, with the death toll expected to rise and some estimates putting the number of wounded at up to 1 000. By Thursday afternoon ambulance sources said at least 40 people had been killed. Earlier, police said two people had been killed in the explosion at Aldgate, and an unknown number had died at Edgware Road. CNN cited an emergency services worker who had carried out several bodies from the King’s Cross site and seen at least 13 more.

A policeman at the scene of the bus explosion at Tavistock Square said people had been killed there, and the ambulance service spoke of “a number” of fatalities.

Sir Blair said there had been many casualties, and that the most seriously injured were currently being operated on.

Both Sir Blair and Clarke urged people to stay at home until further notice, telling them not go into central London. People working in the centre of the capital were advised to stay where they are.

“We are gradually bringing order to the city. Just stay where you are for the time being until the situation clears,” he said.

Horrific injuries

The Royal London hospital said it had treated 208 people, including 10 with critical injuries. The Royal Free hospital treated 55 people, and University College hospital treated another 50 people.

St Mary’s Hospital, in Paddington near Edgware Road, said it had received 36 casualties, of whom six are critically injured, 17 seriously injured and 13 have minor injuries. Julian Nettle, of St Mary’s hospital, said staff were dealing with critical injuries, including the loss of limbs, and serious injuries such as head wounds. Others were being treated for more minor injuries including temporary hearing loss, which he said appeared to have been caused by their close proximity to the explosions.

A woman who works in Tavistock Square said she had seen bodies lying around the bus explosion, some of them without arms or legs. “Get people down here quickly,” she sobbed. She thought a bomb had gone off and was trying to evacuate her office.

“We believe there have been a number of fatalities and a number of people who are seriously injured,” a policeman at the scene said.

Union officials said sources had told them there had been at least one explosive device on the Underground. British Transport police initially said power surges had caused explosions across the network.

The blasts began just before 9am, as commuters made their way to work.

Emergency services attended to wounded passengers outside Aldgate station, and there were reports of passengers covered in soot emerging from King’s Cross. Commuters came out of tunnels covered in blood.

A passenger on the train that exploded at Edgware Road said he had seen several bodies in the wreckage, the Press Association reported.

A Scotland Yard source said the force would be setting up a casualty bureau with a telephone number for people to call if they were worried about loved ones.

Emergencies committee meets

Clarke said the public would be kept updated on the situation. He confirmed there had been “terrible injuries” in the explosions across the capital.

Speaking outside 10 Downing Street soon after the blasts, he said the Cobra civil emergencies committee of senior ministers had met.

The police had taken “operational command” of the situation, he added. “Health services are in support to deal with the terrible injuries that there have been, and I want to express sympathy on behalf of the whole government.”


Eyewitness Belinda Seabrook said she saw the explosion rip though the double-decker bus as it approached Tavistock Square, between Euston and Russell Square stations.

“I was on the bus in front and heard an incredible bang. I turned round and half the double-decker bus was in the air,” she said.

Simon Corvett (26) from Oxford, was on the eastbound train leaving Edgware Road tube station when an explosion happened.

“All of sudden there was this huge bang. It was absolutely deafening and all the windows shattered. The glass did not actually fall out of the windows, it just cracked. The train came to a grinding halt and everyone fell off their seats,” he said.

Corvett, who works in public relations, said the commuter train was absolutely packed. “There were just loads of people screaming and the carriages filled with smoke.

“You couldn’t really breathe and you couldn’t see what was happening. The driver came on the Tannoy and said ‘We have got a problem, don’t panic’,” he said.

Corvett, whose face was covered in soot, joined other passengers to force open the train doors with a fire extinguisher. He said the carriage on the other track was destroyed. “You could see the carriage opposite was completely gutted. There were some people in real trouble.”

Eyewitnesses reported “multiple casualties” at Liverpool Street. A spokesman for the Airport Express Alliance, which operates the Heathrow Express, Gatwick Express and Stansted Express train services said: “They are operating on injured people on the concourse at Liverpool Street station.”

One witness reported seeing “bodies everywhere” in the carriages and limbs lying on the floor. Emergency services reported several injuries.

The shutdown of the London Underground system is thought to be unprecedented.

Avoid London

The public were warned to stay clear of London for non-essential journeys. A Network Rail spokesman said south-bound services into the capital were terminating at Watford, with no onward bus transfers.

“Some trains are being cancelled and others are getting as far as Watford,” he said. “The message we are trying to get across to passengers is don’t travel if you don’t have to.”

Clarke said the Underground network would remain closed for some time, and certainly for the rest of the day.